Our inability to anticipate the effects of volcanic eruptions that will continue to develop in a territory that possesses 10% of the massifs active in the world lies in our limited understanding of the volcano as a uniquely eruptive object, instead of understanding it as a territorial phenomenon, which is complex and multi-scale, presented here as a volcanic landscape.
Vitalizing or catastrophic, the volcano is a modeling agent of a uniquely changing landscape. In this sense, its eruptive effects are physical traces of the energy and dynamism of the earth. However, the explosive eruption of the Calbuco volcano in the Los Lagos Region, which occurred last Wednesday, April 22, has taken us by surprise and has literally shaken what we have mistakenly assumed to be a firm and immutable land. But why does it surprise us?
According to Chilean geologist Oscar González Ferrán, there are around 1,900 active volcanoes in the world, even though only 60 eruptions are recorded annually. Of this total, 90% of these occur in the so-called Pacific Circle of Fire, of which about 2,500 kilometers are located in Chilean territory.
Faced with this scenario, there is no doubt that our country is one of the most unstable and vulnerable territories on the planet. Chile has more than 500 active volcanoes, corresponding to 10% of those that are operational in the world, and yet we usually forget their presence, going so far as to place urban developments in the risk areas that the National Geology and Mining Service has been cataloging as such for years.
Although we had to wait 54 years for Calbuco to reactivate, its historical record indicates the frequency of activity as every 17 years. This reminds us we need to overcome our limited understanding of the volcano as a uniquely eruptive object, and begin to understand it as a complex and multiscale territorial phenomenon. What we could call volcanic landscape emerges thus characterized by unique and dynamic conditions, which go beyond our conception of eruptive phenomenology and is characterized by lavas, pyroclasts or gaseous emanations that may cover the natural elements that, once in contact with these eruptive effects, determine the risks and, more importantly, the transformations in a territory of forests, rivers, lakes, snows and glaciers: debris flows, landslides, forest fires, river overflows, water pollution and soil poisoning by volcanic ashes.
While institutions such as the Southern Andean Volcano Observatory have anticipated the phenomenon, mapping potential danger areas and specific consequences in the face of eruptive emanations, there are other disciplines that can take charge of understanding the qualities and elements of the volcanic landscape, thus contributing to shape the eruptive behavior and, consequently, to determine possible transformations of the landscape in the face of an upcoming eruption.
Urban planning, landscape architecture, geology and geography are disciplines that have the potential to address the duality of the volcanic landscape and its capacity, first, to suffer intense and ephemeral events and, second, to leave physical evidence and marks of the eruptive effects. These are precisely the signals that the volcanoes give us to understand their dynamism: they are the forms of natural registration to which we must be attentive in the search for an adequate coexistence with the eruptive centers and are the keys that remind us that the territory is living and unpredictable matter, a condition we should never forget nor try to conceal.
Of all the disciplines summoned, and based on the work of other disciplines, landscape architecture is capable of constructing a total image of the phenomenon that includes temporality, multi-scalarity and the revelation of the invisible in its variables. In this sense, the new representation techniques provided by this discipline are a tangible opportunity for the natural qualities and the eruptive effects that are hidden or forgotten to be revealed early to produce a conscious coexistence between human and volcano.
Alejandra Vásquez D. holds a Bachelor of Architecture and is a candidate for the Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. Author of the thesis “Modelación del Paisaje Volcánico Chileno: Parques Nacionales y la Representación de una Identidad Territorial”, (Modeling of the Chilean Volcanic Landscape: National Parks and the Representation of a Territorial Identity) with thesis advisor Professor Alejandra Bosch K.